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Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota's playground to the wealthy, is making people sick

Hennepin County Public Health is trying to pin down the source of an outbreak that began over the holiday weekend.

Hennepin County Public Health is trying to pin down the source of an outbreak that began over the holiday weekend. David Joles, Star Tribune

There’s usually good reason to envy our friends who spend the Fourth of July on Lake Minnetonka. It’s in the 11th-wealthiest zip code in the Midwest, conjuring images of well-heeled folk basking in the sun and luxuriating on boats.

But after the Fourth weekend, Hennepin County’s epidemiology unit started getting multiple reports of illness – vomiting, multiple bouts of diarrhea, or sometimes both. The common factor: The stricken reported having been on Lake Minnetonka over the weekend, many of them on Big Island.

“Some had sought medical care from dehydration,” Epidemiology Manager Dave Johnson says. 

The calls kept coming. By Tuesday, more than 30 cases had been confirmed, and Hennepin County Public Health officially declared it an outbreak. What did you eat? workers asked the afflicted. What did you drink? Were you swimming? Is it possible you ingested lake water? As the cases piled up, the bullet points remained the same: Lake Minnetonka, boat, vomit, diarrhea.

By Wednesday, 140 people sick people had called, and at least 116 had symptoms that perfectly fit the bill. As word got out, lakeshore businesses watched as their customers become wary of the water. The manager of one boating business told WCCO his patrons had expressed worries about their safety.

The Lake Minnetonka Association even told the Star Tribune that there was conspicuously less garbage left on Big Island after the holiday weekend, which was nice… but that one of their volunteers fell mysteriously ill after the cleanup.

Johnson asked the afflicted to send in stool samples to pinpoint the bug. He’s confident they’ll have results later this week. In the meantime, if you’re feeling ill, don’t share food, don’t jump into the lake, and don’t forget to wash your hands.

And if you got sick on Big Island, call 612-543-5230.